May 16, 2022 at 4:01 p.m.
What began nearly two decades ago as a pair of brothers milking 40 cows as an FFA project has blossomed into an on-farm creamery that retails dairy products across the region.
Doug Stensland and his father, Art, milked 30 head but exited the dairy in 1989.
Doug and his wife, Mona, have four children: Leah, twins Jason and Justin, and Kyle. Shortly after they entered high school, Jason and Justin began to milk cows for neighbors. They decided re-starting the family’s dairy could be their FFA project.
After graduation, the brothers opted to stay in the dairy business and focus their efforts on organic farming and expanding their herd.
“The boys were soon milking 200 head in their flat parlor,” Doug said. “Milking was taking 10 hours a day.”
To help with efficiency, the Stenslands decided to install a trio of robotic milkers.
“The robots really lightened the workload for the boys,” Doug said. “It gave them more time to look at what it would take to build a creamery.”
On-farm processing had always been a dream of Doug’s. When the kids were younger, the family would drive around looking at dairies that had their own creameries, and as the farm expanded, on-site production became a goal. Jason and Justin’s brother Kyle had a farm of his own and had the equity to put back into the family’s dreams.
After researching the marketing environment, the Stensland family decided to take the plunge into on-farm processing. The Stenslands broke ground for their on-farm processing facility in 2015. The next year, Stensland Family Farms began to retail their products including bottled milk, ice cream, butter, aged cheese and cheese curds.
“We have learned to develop the market before introducing new products,” Doug said. “We’ve also discovered that people can tell the difference in the quality of the food they consume. We’re often asked why our ice cream tastes so good. We tell folks that it’s because we don’t skimp on quality. All of our cows have the gene for producing A2 milk. We think that this has made it possible for more people to be able to enjoy our milk and other dairy products.”
Stensland Family Farms has trucks that deliver their products to retailers and restaurants within an 80-mile radius of their farm. Their dairy goods are retailed by numerous grocery and convenience stores, coffee shops, and ice cream parlors.
The family keeps investing in strategies to further the business and separate it from its competitors.
In 2019, the Stenslands constructed a commercial bakery in their on-farm store and visitor center. The bakery has enabled them to experiment with new products. One of the latest additions to their lineup is frozen pizza.
“There are a lot of pizzas out there, so we asked ourselves how to make ours unique,” Mona said. “That’s why we decided to use a sourdough crust. Our sourdough starter came from one of our employees. We experimented with the starter and tweaked it until we got it exactly the way we want it.”
In their unending effort to control quality, the Stenslands buy whole tomatoes and make their own marinara sauce.
The marketing team at Stensland Family Farms Creamery includes Jason’s wife, Paige, and Justin’s wife, Chelsea.
“Chelsea and I are both graphic designers,” Paige said. “We have designed all of our marketing materials, including our logos and signs.”
The Stenslands haven’t purchased any commercial advertising. They have spread the word about their dairy products via farm tours, social media and strategic partnerships with restauranteurs and retailers.
“We have been able to do a lot of natural marketing through our farm tours,” Paige said. “Before COVID, we had as many as 10,000 people come out to our farm each year. The tour numbers are slowly coming back.”
The family is cognizant of its partnerships, and Doug said, as they add new retailers or restaurants, the family decides if that particular venture is a good fit for their brand.
“A big way that we move milk is by educating the public and telling the story of our farm,” Doug said.
A noteworthy promotional opportunity came to the Stenslands when they were asked to create a signature ice cream to be served at the Sanford International, a PGA Tour Champions event held each September in Sioux Falls. The Stenslands created a lemon cheesecake ice cream that has blueberry swirls throughout. They named this frosty treat The Sanford Swirl.
The Avera Foundation has also asked the Stenslands to craft an ice cream for them. Avera Encouragement contains of a mixture of mint ice cream, homemade brownie and cookie.
Another strategic partnership involves the venerable Twin Bing candy bar.
“We made some Twin Bing ice cream, and it was a big hit with our customers,” Doug said. “Jason got a meeting with members of the Palmer family, who created Twin Bing, and gave them a sample our ice cream. They really liked it. This led to a partnership with the Palmer Candy Company and permission to use their Twin Bing logo. Our Twin Bing ice cream has instant name recognition.”
Stensland Family Farms has three retail outlets in Sioux Falls. They also operate the Falls Overlook Café and run the concessions at the Midco Aquatic Center, both in Sioux Falls. Leah manages all of the family’s retail operations.
In their quest to move more product, the Stenslands recently partnered with The Ritz, a bar and grill located at Lake Okoboji, a tourist hot spot in northwestern Iowa.
“We are going to set our ice cream trailer in their parking lot and dip ice cream all summer long,” Doug said. “The boys are always coming up with new product ideas and new ways to promote our brand.”
Jason said it is important for their business to remain flexible.
“You want to avoid having tunnel vision when you are running a business like ours,” Jason said.
Justin agreed. He said they have learned the place to be consistent is with their products.
“Retailing our dairy products has been a challenging experience, but it has also been immensely rewarding,” Justin said.
Looking back at the past few years, Doug is humbled by the way things have unfolded for his family.
“We have 20 employees,” Doug said. “This means that we now have 20 families who are depending on us. Dad is 92 and still lives here on the farm. He’s been able to watch his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren grow as they worked on our farm. It has been an amazing experience for him and for our entire family.”
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